Steve and Pam met when they were 19 and 17, respectively. They have been together ever since. Steve came to Ayse's Design the Life You Love Workshop around the time they were becoming empty nesters and when he went home, he taught his wife Pam the process. They’ve been designing their lives together every Sunday ever since.
Steve I was with Procter and Gamble for 24 years as head of their Clay Street innovation arm and am now in the process of figuring what's next. I'm an industrial designer, but I haven't designed products in some time. I'm most passionate about helping companies create cultures of innovation, whether that's at Clay Street or elsewhere.
Pam I'm a retired stay-at-home mom who started tagging along on the journey with Steve. I worked in the finance industry for 20 years, took care of the kids, and kept everything running. Our oldest daughter is in her second year of medical school and our youngest is just about to graduate from Columbus College of Art and Design in illustration.
Steve So we are a scientist and an artist. We met when I was 19. I had been dating a girl and it wasn't going very well. My best friend at the time was essentially badgering me about his girlfriend’s friend, so I got him to agree that if he would stop bugging me, I would go out with her.
Pam I was seventeen at the time and still in high school.
Steve My best friend's girlfriend was hitting on me while I was on my date with Pam. It was incredibly awkward, but somehow we got together anyway.
Pam We've been married for thirty years since last September.
Steve We were reflecting on that... That's what old people have, thirty year anniversaries, but we're not that old yet. It's gone very quickly. It was David Keeler who originally told me about your workshop…One of the reasons that I accepted and was so eager to try it was because Pam and I knew we were coming up on a life changing event for us with our youngest daughter going to college. We were just on the cusp of a transition. I only knew a little bit about the premise of Design the Life You Love, and I thought, It had never occurred to me before to use the design process to reflect on one's life, but it made a lot of sense. And I think at that point Pam and I were rather disconnected.
Pam We were mom and dad, but we weren't necessarily connected.
Steve You had us reflecting about ourselves individually at the workshop, but it struck me that we could use this as a couple.
Pam I had been taking a class through the Arbinger Institute about empathy and self, using their book, The Anatomy of Peace. When Steve came back, we put what we each learned together and started to identify where there was some common ground. Steve had more about exploring, more in the mind space. And I was looking at traveling. Suddenly we realized that we both want to explore. And that was kind of the jumping off point for us. We should do this together or combine them.
Steve I remember reflecting how interesting it was and how Design the Life You Love really made me think about myself and where I was as a person. I went home and was telling Pam about it. I shared with her my notebook and the sketches that I had done and I think I had a rough tree.
Pam We talked about it and I told you about the Arbinger book and then you lead me through what you did.
Steve Like Pam said, we realized we had some common points. This whole notion of exploration, which for me meant I sometimes spent too much time in my head. Her exploration was in terms of let's go out and see the world. So then it got us to really clarify what it means when we say ‘explore.' That gave us a launching off point to understand, this is what I mean, this is what you mean and this is what it means for us together. Up until then, we hadn't been talking about that. It's so easy just to be living your everyday life and and this gave us some common ground to actually have goals to work towards together instead of just doing the same thing every day and kind of living parallel lives. This happens a lot. You fall into patterns. I would get up and have my coffee and go to work and and she would get up and get the girls going. So, it kind of forced us to pause and really talk to each other about where we were individually and as a couple. I think I took her through pretty much verbatim what we did in your workshop. To basically have a similar experience to what I had. I think we did it in one sitting on a Saturday. We had three common themes that were coming out: Exploration; The idea of connection; and then health and wellness. So I did the sketch of the tree. In purple pen, because I love purple. Basically, the vine symbolizes us working on our health, both mental and physical. We were hoping the fruits would be exploration. Health and wellness was our grounding, the roots, and the trunks are connection—connection to each other, connection to our daughters, and connection to our extended family and friends. Exploration became the thing that we both want. Later we changed that to play. Because play sounds a lot more fun then exploration.
Pam We've been through many many iterations.
Steve We've been kind of wordsmithing it. But we really use those three themes—exploration, connection and wellness—and then say, okay, what’s within those is what's really important to us as a couple.
Pam We started having Life We Love meetings on Sunday mornings. We would go to the local Panera and have a cinnamon roll and coffee. It was fun. It was wonderful for us.
Steve There were other times we’d go, “Oh, you know we should have a date night" or “Oh, you know we should do this on a regular basis" and we knew that it wasn't easy to keep this going. So we actually picked Sunday mornings, because we said that's a time when the girls are not around and nothing was scheduled. The Life We Love was the theme of what we did every Sunday. We would pick a topic and both of us, whatever it was, would go out and do a little research and then report back to the other. Now, maybe every six months or year we kind of look at it and say, you know this is working, this isn’t, and then talk about the latest iteration.
Pam I think that this whole exercise has given us a really good connection and helped us to create a map to move forward in our relationship. This started just as Steve had left P&G and we really had no idea where we were going.
Steve And I think that was part of also changing exploration to play. You know again there's this idea of being intentional, but it was just less serious and we were at a time in our life where people often get serious, but we needed to lighten up.
Pam I think part of it was Steve had been the only one of us working for a lot of years. Our life could become in service of his career and his passion for his work, which which was fine, but I had kind of gotten to the point where I was just doing things on my own and making decisions about our life. That wasn't fair to him and it wasn't fair to me. So this also gave me the platform say, ‘wait a minute, we need to talk about this.' That was great, it made us feel like we were both sharing in our life. Not just in service of his career.
Steve The other thing that I would say is that when we first did the list, we were looking at it a lot. And then, once we got comfortable with it, we put it away for awhile. I think that was important, that we not get so tied to it. But there were a couple of things that emerged naturally that weren't on there, but are on there now. The morning contemplation. We do spiritual readings in the morning and we have for the last year. Pam has her coffee. I have my tea and we have a reading and then we just talk about what that really means to us. So, some things were able to sort of percolate out naturally. That didn't originate on the list, but we very quickly found a home for it to go "oh, let's get intentional about it" and remind ourselves to do that.
Pam I think one of the things I think that maybe you learned about me is that I was a lot more curious about exploring than you thought I was. I think I found that you wanted to be a lot more involved in our life then I thought you did since you've always been so passionate about your work. That was a very pleasant surprise for me.
Steve I think it helped. On a couple of fronts and I don't mean this in a negative way, but it helped me understand how disconnected we had gotten. Just because we hadn't had these kinds of conversations in a long time. There's a lot of benefit to be to be had by couples from Design the Life You Love.
Pam It was really fun. I mean, I don't think if you were a couple that was having serious problems that it would solve them, but I think to address the every day it’s really good— a good way of falling back in love with each other and reminding yourself of what attracted you to that person and brought you together in the first place. Also, as a reminder of "yeah we need to work on that right now.”
Steve It's also good to help you look forward. We were in a time of transition and, apparently, divorce rates are highest in couples when children are born and when children leave the house. Again I don't feel like our marriage was in trouble, but we had gotten disconnected. And so it seems to me that this is really great for these transition points, when you kind of have to rediscover each other, It was really great for that and is still paying dividends. We're still meeting every morning. You know we still go to Panera. Probably not every Sunday, but we're working on this every day now.